What secret life do you wish you lived? What is the lie you are most likely to tell people if you want them to know who you really are, not the person reflected by your shitty job, crummy apartment and beater car?
My secret world is pretty tame. I even wear condoms in my fantasies, because the one time I didn't, I had to pretend I got the clap for two weeks. And when I hump other women, it always takes forever, because first I have to imagine that Mrs. Filthy dumped me for not taking out the recyclables. I mostly dream I'm a lumberjack, successfully growing facial hair, wearing nice flannels and going to bars to tell girls I'm a lumberjack. I don't ever actually dream about chopping wood because I don't have any training, so my fantasy would be inaccurate, and, shit, I could chop off a foot or something. So, really, I don't fantasize about being a woodsmen; I fantasize about pretending I am one.
I've never known anyone who fantasized about being a supersecret spy. I thought that was just a lazy stereotype of shitty television writers, but not something people did. Real people dream that they're fucking their neighbor's wife and it's okay because of some tragic accident involving the spouses. Or they wish they finally figured out a way to get into the major leagues and win the Cy Young at 44 years old.
In his "unauthorized autobiography" Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Chuck Barris, the creator of the "Gong Show", "Dating Game" and "Newlywed Game" says that while producing his lousy shows, he was also a contract assassin for the CIA. He frequently ran off to Eastern Europe to exchange manila envelopes, wear low-brimmed hats, kill enemies of the state and fuck sexy superagents. Of course it's all bullshit and it's kind of sad. The guy had all the money and time in the world and the only thing he could dream up for himself was what the TV writers told him. He didn't even have the creativity to put any new spins on it.
Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, the movie, plays Barris's bullshit as though it were true. Sam Rockwell is Barris, struggling TV exec who, in a moment of need, takes a job with the CIA. When his schlocky shows start becoming big hits, he is compelled to keep killing for the CIA. The reason given in the movie is because he doesn't feel satisfied by his television success. He doesn't want to be thought of as the purveyor of mind-numbing garbage, and killing people gives him an outlet for his frustration.
Interesting idea, I think. If only the movie were more than a series of vignettes that lead to nowhere. The vignettes don't connect. They just run along until the end, when Director George Clooney and Writer Charlie Kaufman follow the tired and corny deus ex machina from the book. That is, there's a mole within the ranks of CIA assassins, killing them off one by one. This gives the movie a fantastic opportunity to show Barris reconsidering his life's work and being sad. It also is supposed to build suspense, both in figuring out who the mole is and whether Barris will survive.
There are two problems. First, the spy part of the story is so
simplistic that, rationally and physically, there can only be one
person who is the mole. And guess what? It's the CIA agent Barris
was closest to. And she would have gotten away with it, too, if
it weren't for those meddling kids.
The other problem is that through the movie, Barris never becomes
sympathetic or even interesting. He's just sort of pissy and whiny
and vaguely unhappy in an entirely self-absorbed way. Because of
its episodic nature, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind has
a lot of cool scenes and visually neat shit. Individually, the scenes
play out all right. But they're superficial and don't answer the
question: what kind of asshole produces TV shows and kills foreigners?
What is the thought process? Why should we care about him? Sure,
a movie can be about unsympathetic characters, but they better be
a lot more interesting than this guy.
Clooney decision to play Barris's crazy story straight is a really
big fucking mistake because Barris has very little imagination.
His assassination story is just a recycling of the romanticized
crap from old movies. There are lots of agents in trench coats,
secret passageways, fedoras covering eyes in smoky bars, sexy female
spies for fucking, loads of envelopes exchanging hands. But lousiest
of all is when the plot hinges on Barris reversing two coffee cups.
See, one is poisoned and the other isnít. No shit, it's that obvious.
It would have worked a hell of a lot better as a comedy. As it is, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind tries for a few laughs early, but by the end it wants to be really serious and dramatic.
As a first-time director, Clooney works pretty fucking hard to
be hip. He doesn't work so hard and being interesting. He's loaded
the soundtrack with kitsch lounge music like Esquivel and Link Wray,
but it's not authentic or organic. It's just cool for cool's sake.
He also stylizes everything to the point of tedium. Even the shit
that doesn't need to be fussed over is, while the story itself is
shortchanged. He also lets some of the smaller parts turn into embarrassing
scenery chewing. An example is an FCC spokesman who gives a dreadful
speech to scare the young stars of the "Dating Game" into behaving
on the show while having so many face-twitches that I thought epilepsy
was going to become a subplot. Clooney also calls in favors from
his big celebrity friends. I guess we're supposed to get all giddy
at recognizing Matt Damon, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, but they
distract from the story. Roberts, in particular, seems hell bent
on only doing unglamorous roles these days. Maybe it's so I'll stop
sending all the flowers.
The acting is decent, except for Roberts's bad secret agent. Drew
Barrymore, as Barris's love interest, is about as good as I've ever
seen her. Sam Rockwell is fine, but bland and whiny. Ladies, you
get to see his ass a lot. I've probably now seen his ass more than
I've seen my own. Clooney plays a CIA operative and he kind of sucks.
He's supposed to be cool, but he's trying too hard.That pretty much
descirbes the movie.
It's all surface style, and no substance. And God knows, we get enough of that
shit every day. Two Fingers for Confessions of a Dangerous
Mind. As long as we're playing make believe, why not pretend
that plot matters.